I think I’d gotten as far as Kyoto in my tales of Japan, but I need to backtrack just a little to tell you about Hiroshima.
This is one of those places I’d always wanted to visit. You know, one of the places you list when someone says “If you could go anywhere in the world, what would you go to see?”.
Of course, these days my list is almost impossible to write down because I have been well and truly infected with the travel bug, and just about anywhere in the world seems exciting and appealing to me. I read numerous travel blogs and articles, and more often than not they make me determined to visit the particular country or attraction they describe. But once upon a time, there would have been only a few places on my Must See Before I Die list. It would probably have looked something like this:
- New York City
- The Great Wall of China
- Roswell (I know… I’m sorry…)
- Ramsay Street (Ditto… look, it was a big part of my childhood!)
- Angkor Wat
- The Pyramids of Giza
- The Great Barrier Reef
I have now been to the first 5 of those. As I said, the list is now hopelessly, hopelessly long, but it was founded on that Top Ten!
Anyway, number 5 was checked off the list a few weeks ago, when Irish Friend Two and I decided to put our money problems on hold for a few hours and go see more than the banks and ATMs of Hiroshima. It’s one of those odd travel experiences that you can’t describe as ‘fantastic’ or say that you ‘enjoyed’ it, much like Auschwitz. However, Auschwitz is possibly my very best travel experience to date. I did enjoy it, albeit in a very different way to how I enjoy most places I visit. It left me feeling sad and angry rather than excited and delighted, but it made a bigger impression on my mind, my heart, and my memory than dozens of other travel destinations combined. I’d go back – and probably will, one day.
Hiroshima didn’t affect me quite as deeply (possibly because I was so distracted by the money worry), but it, too, was certainly an experience I’d describe as important. The city itself is a very ordinary Japanese city – modern, clean, and visually attractive. I think that’s why the sight of the A-bomb dome is so breathtaking.
When the atomic bomb detonated right above this building, it flattened everything around and instantly reduced the interior to ash – but the building shell remained standing, and has been preserved to look exactly as it did after the bomb. Against its backdrop of modern skyscrapers and its setting in a beautifully landscaped park by the river, it’s a silently chilling reminder of what mankind can do to each other. It’s surrounded by various memorials, statues, and gardens in a park known as “Peace Park”.
You go into the museum and walk around following a timeline of the Hiroshima story. It starts with a history of nuclear weapons, the background of the war, and how Hiroshima was chosen as a target for the atomic bomb. I was expecting this to be very selective, but I ended up being very impressed with the presentation of information. Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to how the Koreans do things, because I was expecting it to come across as Japan being a poor, innocent, helpless victim. (I have yet to read anything negative about Korea in Korean museums!) Instead, everything was very unbiased, critical of Japan as much as any other country, and packing a much heftier punch as a result (for me, at least). The aim of the museum was not to evoke pity for the Japanese, but to educate about the dangers of nuclear weapons – an issue I can’t say I’d ever considered in much depth.
Obviously, that’s changed for me now. Reading all the background was disturbing, and seeing the aftermath was horrifying. The displays take you right up to the moment of the bombing, and there’s a sudden break in the exhibits. A large portion of the wall shows a massive, floor-to-ceiling picture of a watch showing the time of the bombing, and a quotation reading: A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly, when…
Right next to it is a glass case containing an old, battered watch that is stopped at the exact moment the bomb detonated.
You then get to see all sorts of horrific and heartbreaking images of devastation, suffering, death, destruction, and other things that make you wonder how on earth human beings can do these terrible, terrible things to each other, but for me, the quotation and the watch were the most powerful. Ordinary people, doing ordinary, everyday things, when…
Despite my hippy-dippy, “let’s not fight”, “peace on earth” attitude, I do know that war is a grim necessity in our world. I know that if it weren’t for war, the Nazis could have gone on “purifying” the earth by killing anyone they didn’t like the look of, and free nations across the world could be living in fear under brutal dictators. I’m fairly certain that there must be an alternative to war just waiting to be discovered, but know that we’re stuck with soldiers and armies and tanks until that day comes, if it ever does. Nuclear war, on the other hand… that’s completely unnecessary, and the more I now read about nuclear weapons, the more alarmed I become. I’m not one for getting involved in causes, usually, but in this case? I can see it happening.
Watch this space.